Page images

Some are bewilder'd in the maze of schools,


And some made coxcombs Nature meant but fools.
In search of wit these lose their common sense,
And then turn Critics in their own defence:
Each burns alike, who can, or cannot write,
Or with a Rival's, or an Eunuch's spite.
All fools have still an itching to deride,
And fain would be upon the laughing side.
If Mævius scribble in Apollo's spite,

There are, who judge still worse than he can write.
Some have at first for Wits, then Poets past,
Turn'd Critics next, and prov'd plain fools at last.


Ver. 36. Some have at first for Wits, &c.] The poet having enumerated, in this account of the nature of Judgment and its various depravations, the several sorts of bad critics, and ranked them into two general Classes; as the first sort, namely the men spoiled by false learning, are but few in comparison of the other, and likewise come less within his main view (which is poetical Criticism) but keep grovelling at the bottom amongst words and syllables, he thought it enough for his purpose here, just to have mentioned them,



Ver. 28. In search of wit these lose their common sense,] This observation is extremely just. Search of Wit is not only the occasion, but the efficient cause of the loss of common sense. Wit consisting in chusing out, and setting together such Ideas from whose assemblage pleasant pictures may be drawn on the Fancy; the Judgment, through an habitual search of Wit, loses, by degrees, its faculty of seeing the true relation of things; in which consists the exercise of common sense. Warburton.

Ver. 32. All fools] The sentiment is just. And if Hobbes's account of laughter be true, that it arises from a silly pride, we see the reason of it. The expression too is fine; it alludes to the condition of idiots and natural fools, who are observed to be ever on the grin. Warburton.

Some neither can for Wits nor Critics pass,
As heavy mules are neither horse nor ass.
Those half-learn'd witlings, num'rous in our isle, 40
As half-form'd insects on the banks of Nile;
Unfinish'd things, one knows not what to call,
Their generation's so equivocal:


them, proposing to do them right hereafter. But the men spoiled by false taste are innumerable; and these are his proper concern: he therefore [from ver. 35 to 46.] sub-divides them again into the two classes of the volatile and heavy: he describes, in few words, the quick progression of the one through Criticism, from false wit, to plain folly, where they end; and the fixed station of the other between the confines of both; who under the name of Witlings, have neither end nor measure. A kind of half-formed creature from the equivocal generation of vivacity and dulness, like those on the banks of Nile, from heat and mud.


Ver. 38. Some neither can for Wits nor Critics pass,] These lines, and those preceding and following them, are excellently satirical; and are, I think, the first we find in Pope's works, that give an indication of that species of poetry to which his talent was most powerfully bent. The simile of the mule heightens the satire, and is new; as is the application of the insects of the Nile. Pope never shines so brightly as when he is proscribing bad authors,

"The Nile (says Fenton on Waller) has been as fruitful of English similes as the sun; from both which it would be as severe to restrain a young poet, as forbidding the use of fire and water was esteemed among the Romans."


Ver. 43. Their generations so equivocal,] It is sufficient that a principle of philosophy has been generally received, whether it be true or false, to justify a poet's use of it to set off his wit. But to recommend his argument, he should be cautious how he uses any but the true. For falsehood, when it is set too near the truth, will tarnish what it should brighten up. Besides, the analogy between natural and moral truth makes the principle of true philosophy the fittest for this use. Our poet has been pretty careful in observing this rule, Warburton.


To tell 'em would an hundred tongues require,
Or one vain wit's, that might a hundred tire.
But you who seek to give and merit fame,
And justly bear a Critic's noble name,
Be sure yourself and your own reach to know,
How far your genius, taste, and learning go;
Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet, 50
And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.


Ver. 46. But you who seek, &c.] Our Author having thus far, by way of INTRODUCTION, explained the nature, use, and abuse of Criticism, in a figurative description of the qualities and characters of Critics, proceeds now to deliver the precepts of the art. The first of which [from ver. 45 to 68.] is, that he who sets up for a Critic should previously examine his own strength, and see how far he is qualified for the exercise of his profession. He puts him in a way to make this discovery, in that admirable direction given ver. 51.

AND MARK THAT POINT WHERE SENSE AND DULNESS MEET. He had shewn above, that Judgment, without Taste or Genius, is equally incapable of making a Critic or a Poet: In whatsoever subject then the Critic's Taste no longer accompanies his Judgment, there he may be assured he is going out of his depth. This our Author finely calls,

that point where sense and dulness meet.

And immediately adds the REASON of his precept; the Author of Nature having so constituted the mental faculties, that one of them can never greatly excel, but at the expense of another. From this state of coordination in the mental faculties, and the influence and effects they have upon one another, the poet draws this CONSEQUENCE, that no one Genius can EXCEL in more than one Art or Science. The consequence shews the necessity of the precept, just as the premises, from which the consequence is drawn, shew the reasonableness of it. Warburton.


Ver. 51. And mark that point where sense and dulness meet.] Besides the peculiar sense explained above in the Comment, the words have still a more general meaning, and caution us against going


Nature to all things fix'd the limits fit,
And wisely curb'd proud man's pretending wit.
As on the land while here the ocean gains,
In other parts it leaves wide sandy plains;
Thus in the Soul while memory prevails,
The solid pow'r of understanding fails;
Where beams of warm imagination play,
The memory's soft figures melt away.



on, when our ideas begin to grow obscure; as we are then most apt to do; though that obscurity be an admonition that we should leave off, for it arises, either from our small acquaintance with the subject, or the incomprehensibility of its nature. In which circumstances a genius will always write as badly as a dunce. An observation well worth the attention of all profound writers.


Ver. 56. Thus in the Soul] The beauty of imagery in these lines should not make us blind to the want of justness in the thought. To represent strength of memory as incompatible with solidity of understanding, is so obviously contrary to fact, that I presume the author had in his eye only the case of extraordinary memory for names, dates, and things, which offer no ideas to the mind; which has, indeed, been often displayed in great perfection by mere idiots. For, it is difficult to conceive how the faculty of judgment, which consists in the comparison of different ideas, can at all be exercised without the power of storing up ideas in the mind, and calling them forth when required. From the second couplet, apparently meant to be the converse of the first, one would suppose that he consulted the understanding and the imagination as the same faculty, else the counterpart is defective. Further, so far is it from being true that imagination obliterates the figures of memory, that the circumstance which causes a thing to be remembered, is principally its being associated with other ideas by the agency of the imagination. If the poet only meant, that those ideas about which imagination is occupied, are apt to exclude ideas of a different kind, the remark is true, but it should have been differently expressed. Warton.

One science only will one genius fit;
So vast is art, so narrow human wit:



Ver. 60. One science only will one genius fit;] When Tully attempted poetry, he became as ridiculous as Bolingbroke when he attempted philosophy and divinity.

When Fontaine, whose Tales indicated a truly comic genius, brought a comedy on the stage, it was received with a contempt equally unexpected and deserved. Terence has left us no tragedy; and the Mourning Bride of Congreve, notwithstanding the praises bestowed on it by Pope, in the Dunciad, is certainly a despicable performance; the plot is unnaturally intricate, and overcharged with incidents, the sentiments trite, and the language turgid and bombast. The Biter of Rowe is wretched. Heemskirk and Teniers could not succeed in a serious and sublime subject of history painting. The latter, it is well known, designed cartoons for tapestry, representing the history of the Turriani of Lombardy. Both the composition and the expression are extremely indifferent ; and certain nicer virtuosi have remarked, that in the serious pieces of Titian himself, even in one of his Last Suppers, a circumstance of the ridiculous and the familiar is introduced, which suits not with the dignity of his subject. Hogarth's Sigismonda disgraced his pencil.

The modesty and good sense of the ancients is, in this particular, as in others, remarkable. The same writer never presumed to undertake more than one kind of dramatic poetry, if we except the Cyclops of Euripides. A poet never presumed to plead in public, or to write history, or indeed any considerable work in prose. The same actors never recited tragedy and comedy: this was observed long ago, by Plato, in the third book of his Republic. They seem to have held that diversity, nay universality, of excellence, at which the moderns frequently aim, to be a gift unattainable by man. We therefore, of Great Britain, have, perhaps, more reason to congratulate ourselves, on two great phenomena; I mean Shakspeare's being able to pourtray characters so very different as Falstaff and Macbeth; and Garrick's being able to personate so inimitably a Lear, or an Abel Drugger. Warton. Neither the authority of the poet nor the efforts of the annotator


« EelmineJätka »